Feeling Safe To Step Into the Unknown — and Maybe Find Joy
In case we didn’t already know it, COVID-19 most certainly taught or reminded us that life is uncertain and that the best way to make God laugh is to have plans.
Victoria Labalme figured this out years ago, but sees the positive in it. There’s no need to lock in to one path, or to make a commitment to a choice because it seems like The Right Thing To Do (to you or the people around you).
Her own life started on the track familiar to so many young people in this region, with high expectations of what one is supposed to do after school. That continued into young adult life, as she traveled the world and studied the dramatic arts — while her friends settled into careers and marriages.
She felt somewhat adrift, a little alienated. And then two life-altering events took place within days of each other: Her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and Victoria watched the World Trade Center crumble from her bedroom window following the terror attacks of Sept.11, 2001.
Everything changed. When Labalme finally emerged from it all, she had become a successful keynote speaker and performance coach, finding the right gig for herself at a moment when finding direction had become the least important thing on her mind.
‘At the edge of not knowing…’
She took that as a lesson and began to do keynote speeches on, among other topics, something she calls Risk Forward. As she likes to say about this concept, and her new “Risk Forward” book: “Some people in life know exactly what they want to achieve. Risk Forward is for the rest of us.”
“Risk Forward” the book was started before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Labalme said in a phone interview last week, “The message turned out to be so timely. The world is really ready for this book.” That’s what happens when you don’t over think: Things fall into place in unexpected ways, ways that wouldn’t have been possible if you’d tried to map them out.
“Risk Forward is about the value of not knowing,” she said. “It’s in that little window of not knowing that we need to pay attention — because once we’ve made a commitment, then … we’re in it.
“So the question is: How do we evaluate the choices in front of us? We all have choices, whether it’s what you make for dinner or what book you pull off the shelf or what movie you watch. With Risk Forward I want to give people permission to explore an idea — even if they don’t have a plan behind it.
“Because at the edge of not knowing is the beginning of the extraordinary.”
A creative life in Cornwall
One path that Labalme herself followed in an unplanned serendipitous way: Rediscovering her love of drawing, doodling, sketching.
“I was at a store in Kent [Conn.] years ago and saw something that delighted my imagination. I came home and started drawing again and that evolved over the years into the signature character I use in the book.”
Labalme has spent much of her life in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut. Her father had gone to school here and fallen in love with the area. After he married, George Labalme Jr. and his wife, Patsy, bought a house in Cornwall, where they raised their four children as part-time residents.
Victoria’s brother, Henry Labalme, is still here in Cornwall. The family home was sold a few years ago, after George’s death in 2016. But Victoria returns to the area often, visiting from her home in New York City.
Visits to Connecticut can be a perfect antidote to a life spent in Manhattan and on the road (when there isn’t a pandemic).
“I think the mindset of the Northwest Corner is a very pure one,” she said. “There’s not a lot that I’ve seen up here that’s about showmanship. It’s about sincerity and integrity. There’s a lot of creativity here, too.”
Labalme was part of the creative community herself while in high school: She spent the summer when she was 17 working as the Inquiring Photographer for The Lakeville Journal, a job that was formative for her in some ways.
“The editor used to call me ‘Victoria 17 Going on 30,’” she recalled with a laugh. “But to be taken seriously at that age …”
On her next visit to the area, Labalme will stop by Oblong Books and Music in Millerton, N.Y., and House of Books in Kent to sign copies of “Risk Forward,” which is $24.99 and which is designed to be eminently gift-able. It’s fun and easy to read and populated with the lively illustrations that have become her trademark.
To find out more, go to www.RiskForward.com/Book. There are bonuses there for anyone who pre-orders the book; the bonuses disappear from the site after March 30.